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USA vs Japan: what we learned from their first rematch post-World Cup

It could have been worse - but it could have been better too

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The United States tied Japan 3-3 last night in a back-and-forth game that had the US excitedly coming back from a two-goal deficit, gaining a late lead, then seeing it evaporate with an even later Japanese equalizer.

Here are three things we learned from the game.

Hope Solo shouldn't start every game

This isn't so much something we learned as something that really really really needs reiterating. People have been screaming this at varying volumes for a while now, because Solo's monopoly on the starting position due to US Soccer's insistence that wins and records come before developing goalkeeper depth means that the two backup picks, Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher, are woefully underexperienced.

Japan's goalkeeper, 20-year-old Ayaka Yamashita, showed her youth and relative inexperience, flubbing some saves that probably should have been handled. But you have to think that was part of the plan for Japan, letting their young GK get top-level experience regardless of where it landed them with results. True, they have far less to lose from these games, and they don't have Olympic expectations, but at the same time that just exposes the crazy expectations US Soccer (and some fans) seem to have for the USWNT. There seems to be a real, almost palpable fear that the WNT must always win lest they tarnish their image, which is in huge part a result of the USSF marketing hype train that proclaims them winners no matter what.

So yes, it is rather untenable that Hope Solo is now chasing 100 clean sheets (she'll still at 98 after last night) and is on 195 caps while backups Harris and Naeher have eight and six caps respectively. That's no kind of depth that you can rely on.

You can't automatically rely on this defense like last summer

The US got to the finals of last summer's World Cup mostly on the back of its unrelenting, unyielding defense. When everything was going topsy-turvy, at least you could rely on that back four. But Japan exposed some of their weaknesses in this game, like Meghan Klingenberg's tendency to go haring off at the slightest sniff of a ball. They also found some cracks in that center back pairing of Sauerbrunn and Johnston, pulling one in and easily leaving behind the other on their third goal.

Is this partially a result of being their first national team game in a while? Maybe. But Johnston and Sauerbrunn have been working together for far too long to get caught out like this regardless of when they last played together, and they're all coming directly from their NWSL clubs, so there really shouldn't be much rust to knock off the pipes.

There's also the matter of Ali Krieger seeming to lose her starting spot to Kelley O'Hara, who it would be foolish not to choose for the Olympics between her current form and her versatility. Does that mean Krieger should get pushed out? Klingenberg really shouldn't be a lock at starter based on this performance - she's fine against lower-pressure teams, but she's liable to get caught out on the counter and it's worth it to test O'Hara starting on the left and Krieger on the right more thoroughly.

The midfield can function without Carli Lloyd

But that doesn't mean they didn't miss her. Lloyd is scheduled to come back well before they need to announce Olympic rosters, so perish the thought that this midfield was anything other than a "what do we do without Carli" situation. (Whether you feel positively or negatively about Lloyd's nigh-permanent spot in the starting XI these days, well...leave it in the comments.)

Allie Long and Morgan Brian got stuck for long periods trying to find a way out of Japan's pressure. You can't definitively say Carli Lloyd would have helped solve that pressure, but when you need someone to punch their way through a midfield and spur some shots on goal, Lloyd is certainly an option who comes to mind first. Brian is also still dealing with a nagging hamstring injury that has limited her time for the Houston Dash and seemed to come into play in this game as well, as she was a bit unremarkable on the night.

On the other hand, with or without Lloyd, the US is certainly capable of pushing the action wide, as they did on Alex Morgan's first goal. Crystal Dunn and Mal Pugh can both create on the run and with players like Morgan, Press, and Horan able to get into the box, that's a potent avenue of attack. If Tobin Heath had been a little more active on the left, the flow of the game might have pointed at Japan's goal more often. And there was some good midfield movement through Long and, later, Mewis, so it's not like they were completely static and penned in.

Overall, it was a good test for the US, especially in terms of their mentality. Coming back from going down two goals early isn't something you can simulate off the field, and Japan should have our gratitude for really giving the team something to chew on instead of another easy victory. And they were just a great team to watch, from an entertainment standpoint. We'll see how both teams adapt for their second game on Sunday, June 5, at 12:30 PM ET in Cleveland.